Racing On: The JE Pistons NMCA West Coast Shootout

We dropped by the 5th annual JE Pistons NMCA West Coast Shootout on June 5, held at The Autoclub Dragway. This is one of our favorite events, because its location in Southern California always brings out the best weather and the prettiest women. Maybe the Beach Boys were on to something, and they should all be California girls. Anyway, California is known for more than beautiful women – cars are a close second on the list. There is not another state that loves cars more than the Golden State.

Taking advantage of the breaks between the racing action, we walked through the pit area looking at all the great cars that came to test their metal against others with the same mindset. There were several cars that caught our attention during the pit walk, and some of the car owners had especially great stories about the cars, but five cars stood out. There was just something about these five that made them stand head and shoulders above the crowd. So join us as we celebrate our top five cars of the show:

My wife drove this car to high school. She’s over 50-years old now.     – Jack Swanson

Number 1: Jack Swanson’s ’67 Camaro

“There is a story behind this car. My wife drove this car to high school,” said Swanson. Before we could accuse him of being a cradle robber, Swanson added, “and she’s over fifty now, so what does that tell you about this car?” Frankly, it told us that the car was cherished by the family, and was as beautiful in their eyes as it was in ours.

When asked what class he raced the car, Swanson quickly blurted out, “Patina. I run in the patina class.” The group around him chuckled when one of the other racers spoke up. “Actually, it’s a fast car and he wins a lot of events”, he chimed in as the others in the group nodded their heads in agreement. “I’ve been meaning to paint this car for a long time,” explained Swanson, “but every time I have the money for a paint job, something else needs to be done on it.”

Describing the paint scheme as “factory Butternut Yellow and patina,” Swanson lowered his voice where only we could hear. “I’m afraid to paint it. The car runs so well that I don’t want to do anything to change that,” he admitted.

Currently, the car sports a 406ci small-block Chevy that Swanson is considering swapping out for a 327ci SBC. “I have to keep adding weight to slow it down. Right now I have 30 pounds in the trunk. The smaller engine will slow me back down without having to add the weight,” the experienced sportsman bracket racer claimed.

The patina Camaro appears to be almost completely factory stock. Hanging behind the engine is a stock Turbo 350 with a stock driveline. The only upgrades to the stock interior, is a pretty neat but well used B & M shifter and an AutoMeter tach with a shift light. Almost everything else in the interior is left the way the automotive Gods intended. There are no upgrades  at all. In fact, Swanson hasn’t even replaced the missing brake pedal pad.

We were glad to see that Swanson had kept the interior very stock-like.

We spotted an electric water pump on the engine, which is probably a great idea for the punched out small-block pushing all that weight in the hot California sun. Fontana, California, may not be Death Valley-quality desert, but its not coastal either! We were pleased to see Wilwood brakes mounted on the front wheels, which clued us that stopping at the end of the track was important to Swanson. For that, we give the sportsman racer two-thumbs up.

It’s pretty clean under the hood too! Swanson plans on putting a smaller engine in soon.

We kept an eye on Swanson as he went to the line against new challengers every round. His first victim was a ’70 Mach 1 Mustang. The next defeat was a ’11 Mustang from Yucaipa. Third round saw the ’67 patina Camaro take down a 1997 Camaro. As the field narrowed, Swanson ran for time against an empty lane drawing the odd field bye. This set up a showdown between Swanson and our very own Melissa Lawrence in her 2015 Corvette for the fifth round. Swanson’s patina Camaro advanced when Lawrence red-lighted the start, setting up a legendary finals showdown of 1967 Camro vs. 1994 Mustang.

According to his friends, Swanson is no stranger to the final round, which is exactly where he made it on Saturday.

We’d love to tell you that Swanson hit his dial-in perfectly, but as is the case with bracket racing so many times, he was ahead at the line but broke out by two-thousandths of a second. That’s probably the difference in speed that a 327ci SBC will make.

We picked Kenny Snow’s Vega wagon on our pit walk, without realizing that we did a feature story on this beauty last year at the same event.

Number 2: Kenny Snow’s ’72 Vega GT Wagon

Not realizing that we had picked out Snow’s Vega at last year’s event, we spotted it again, and tagged it as one of our top five. There is something to be said for consistency in judging! There are so few Vega wagons left in running condition these days, that one that is in great condition and flies down the track is going to stand out every time.

Snow's Vega is great looking from any angle.

Last year, we covered Snow’s wagon in the feature article, Rise Of A Champion. Snow is a veteran racer, running in the Fastest Street Car bracket 1 Super-Pro class. With several class wins at different events, Snow and his Vega are always prepared. This week wasn’t going to be the week to take home another trophy however. Advancing to the second round, Snow was pitted against the driver he had beaten in the first round. By virtue of a buy-back, the two faced off again where Snow red-lit the launch.

Despite being eliminated in the second round, Snow and his Vega Wagon did earn their way onto our top five list. “There is actually a great story behind this car,” said Snow. “I crashed my previous car, which was a ’71 Vega at Las Vegas in 2013. I ended up buying this one from a friend who had been storing this car for twelve years.”

Inside the cabin or under the hood, there is plenty to like in this Vega wagon.

Much to the delight of Snow, most of the drivetrain swapped over to the new Vega Wagon, and he was ready to compete again. The Vega was outfitted with a SBC 406ci mill, with a front suspension fabricated by Overkill Race Cars. The front suspension features AFCO coilover shocks, a Mustang II rack and pinion steering, and Lamb disc brakes.

Any time a wagon gets its wheels in the air, it is a great sight to witness.

The rear was set up with a Ford 9-inch that utilizes a Mark Williams third member, and was prepared by Lamb Components. The rear end features a 4.30 gear set with light weight gun-drilled Mark Williams axles and Lamb brakes. This is all supported with a set of Art Morrison ladder bars. Weld Racing Alumastar 2.0 wheels with Hoosier drag slicks complete the suspension combination.

Harlan Clark’s first-gen Camaro and metallic pewter paint stole the show.

Number 3: Harlan Clark’s ’69 Camaro

Harlan Clark’s Metallic Pewter ’69 Camaro tripped the red light in round one, but stole our hearts in the staging lane. The brilliant paint job set this car off in the bright California sun. Photos simply do not pay adequate justice to the sterling shine that this paint color radiates.

The back story to Clark’s Camaro made us glad that we stopped by to talk with the racer and his crew. “I purchased this car in 2002, after my daily driver – a 1970 Nova – was stolen. Using the insurance money and my savings, I found this ’69 Camaro project car in the Auto Trader,” he explained. “It was partially disassembled, but not missing many parts. It did have a frozen 400ci small-block Chevy, chrome mud flaps, a jet-ski trailer hitch, and a live nitrous switch – which was found after the battery kept going dead.”

Pictures do not do this paint job justice. The California sun never looked better than it did through this unique color.

Living in an apartment without a garage, Clark put the car together on the street in Los Feliz, California. “I put in a donor 350 SBC, which I had also purchased from the Auto Trader, and had the car running in two-months. In order to save money for new engine parts, I opted for a rattle can satin black paint job,” claimed Clark. “This was before satin black paint jobs became popular,” he added proudly. “Drag racing was part of our family growing up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in the 1970s. My Dad raced a ’67 Chevelle that he sold when moving to California,  It is still racing to this day in Wisconsin, in a nostalgia racing organization. His car was named the ‘Clipper City Chevy’ due to Manitowoc, being a ship building town.”

The cabin and under hood are all business.

When it came to putting his Camaro on the track, Clark started locally. “I started driving my Camaro to Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale, California, for Wednesday and Friday night grudge racing. ” He continued “It didn’t take long before I began racing it in the American Nostalgia Racing Association, and from there, Bakersfield. Eventually we landed with NMCA in Fontana. My car was dubbed the ‘Clipper City Chevy’ as homage to my Dad’s car.”

According to Clark, there are future plans for the Camaro. “By family law, it will remain an ‘angry’ small block machine. My Dad and I built this car together, and he is currently my crew chief.  Next year, we hope to put the car in the 10’s with an ‘angrier’ big-block-trailering small block.”

The ’69 Camaro was designed with an aggressive look. Clark has taken it a step further.

Current engine details include: a 383ci small block with Edelbrock E-tec 200 heads, Victor Junior intake, 750 Mighty Demon, Eagle Cast crankshaft, I-beam rods, hypereutectic pistons building a 10.2:1 compression ratio, a Crane Energizer camshaft, mechanical water and fuel pumps, a stock  three core radiator, and two 16-inch Derale (push/pull) fans.

Many experts say the absolute pinnacle for Camaro was the 1970-1971 cars. Gary Wallace would agree. His 1970 second-gen Camaro gets a lot of attention.

Number 4: Gary Wallace’s ’70 Camaro

Gary Wallace’s ’70 Camaro was competing in the highly competitive Super Pro bracket, as one of 16 entrants. Advancing from the first round over an ’83 Chevy, Wallace drew a bye in the second round. In round three, Wallace faced off with Fred Johnson’s 632ci dragster, earning another victory and advancing to the fourth round. Johnson’s day came to an end with an early start and red light in round four, but earns ever-lasting immortality as one of our top five cars of the event.

He claims that he doesn't show the car, but it has won awards at three different car shows.

Wallace claims that he doesn’t really show the car at car shows, but he has won awards at the Tehachapi car show, Temecula Rod Run, and the Redlands car show. A devout Chevy fanatic, Wallace claims the only reason he built this car was because he loves cars, and enjoys working on them even more. His primary motivation for building this particular car was for the love of this year and model Camaro.

“It’s fun to drive and runs good,” said Wallace. “I’m never done thinking about what I am going to do next or wrenching on the car.” To this point, Wallace has been racing the car for the past five years in its current configuration, with a few minor changes and replacements here-and-there. “I’ve owned the car for ten years, and have done most of the work myself,” he said. “The previous owner had started building the car as a Pro-Street car, and I took it from there.”

The Camaro features a 468ci BBC engine with a Hughes-built Powerglide transmission. The engine runs so well, that Wallace currently has no plans to change anything. The exterior is covered with what Wallace calls “a garage mix” paint color.

Don’t let the license plate fool you. This car is built for the track.

Other notable features on the Camaro include a custom driveshaft from Inland Empire Driveline, a fiberglass hood with hood scoop, a complete set of AutoMeter gauges, a Pro Bandit shifter, Wilwood brakes, and Mickey Thompson wheels with Goodyear tires.

Charlie Jorgensen’s Nova is the perfect example of the everyman sleeper car.

Number 5: Charlie Jorgensen’s ’72 Nova

Charlie Jorgensen looked shocked when we told him that we wanted to feature his Nova as one of the top five cars of the event. “Mine?” he asked incredulously. Yes. We wanted to praise this Nova as the everyman car. Racers and magazines tend to throw around terms at will, with little care to the actual meaning of the term. In the case of this Nova, sleeper is a term that fits very accurately.

The Wildomar, resident has been racing this Nova with a great deal of success for more than 10 years in the PSCA and NMCA west coast events. Within the different classes that Jorgensen runs the car, the competition knows that the Nova is not to be overlooked. Spectators that don’t know any better, will bypass this beauty for a car with a nice coat of wax. That’s a mistake.

Jorgensen can fool most of the fans in the stands, but he didn't pull the wool over our eyes. We knew this was a quick car.

Featuring a factory paint job that was once a bright dark green, the Nova now shows signs of the California sun baking the clear coat. Wind abrasion has worn the outer coat away from the edges, and exposed the thin factory color coats of paint. In short, the paint job looks like many that we see in Diamond Bar or Redlands everyday.

Looking under the hood at the 502ci BBC tells a different story. The car runs on pump gas, but is capable of much more. Jorgensen keeps the beast in the index classes. “I don’t have any immediate plans on engine upgrades,” said Jorgensen. Which is probably a good thing for the competition. Behind the behemoth engine is a Turbo 400 with a reverse-shift pattern.

The fading paint couldn't distract us from checking under the hood.

Jorgensen has spent some time upgrading the interior with all the goodies that a racer would want. It’s race ready, from the wide-band air/fuel gauge and fuel psi gauge, to line lock and trans brake. He has kept the interior complete, and even added Dynamat soundproofing to the floor, doors, and roof. Believe it or not, Jorgensen still runs the stock front disc and rear drum brakes. This is every bit the quintessential sleeper car that poses as the everyman daily driver. On this weekend, Jorgensen advanced to the second round, where despite a great run, was put out of the Nostalgia Street Car class competition by a ’64 Chevy II that eventually lost in the finals.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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